Should Artists Put Their Art on Greeting Cards? | Collective Wisdom

I recently received this question from a RedDotBlog reader:

I have been earning a living solely from my art for more than 25 years and much of my income before that was from my art. I own an art gallery, the success of which depends mainly on the paintings and prints sold. For many years, people have asked me to put my paintings on gift cards. That might seem like a good idea on the surface (good advertising, spreading the messages the paintings were created to spread), but the followup to that question is often “I want to frame them.”Production costs of quality cards isn’t inexpensive, packaging and signage must be added to that, and labor is intense. You’d need a marketing rep for cards to make card sales pay anything to make it worth your while. Then take into account that the sales of cards, which might earn you a dollar each if you do them yourself, replaces the sales of prints. After the recession hit, some people were buying canvas bookmarks I made from some of my paintings to sells “stocking stuffers”, but they wound up being main gifts. They framed bookmarks. This happened at my biggest studio event of the year, which normally brought in a substantial amount of money, enough to get through the long winter off-season at the beach. That year we brought in about 20% of my lowest year, about 10% of my highest. The recession had a lot to do with that, but the less is better for gifts mentality seems to remain.

Taking all this into consideration, do you have an opinion about offering cards of artwork? In my case, all of my prints are gicle’es and I care about the quality of color reproduction to the extent that I do the gicle’es myself. Cards would probably misrepresent the work in addition to replacing print sales. Someone very nice approached me for a card of one of my most important works today and I had to turn her down. I could see she wasn’t pleased, so I’ve been going around in circles thinking about this again.

Should artists put their paintings’ images on gift cards?

Ellen

My Response

It sounds to me like you already have a pretty strong sense that you would be better off not creating the cards. I can’t make an argument that is strong enough to counter any of the points you’ve made.

I know that many artists are creating these kinds of cards and either selling them or using them for promotional purposes, but I’m not sure that those efforts are having a strong impact on their total sales.

I personally don’t have strong opinions one way or the other – I don’t feel that creating cards is either going to destroy your career or make you fabulously wealthy. With that said, I look at cards as a good potential way to increase the visibility of your work and a potential way to convert non-buyers into buyers.

On the Pro Side of the Question

I like the idea of using these cards for thank you notes and to send out updates of newly available work. If you are going to be using them to this end, it makes sense to think about packaging them for sale as well.

If you are in an area that has a heavy volume of traffic but a large percentage of that traffic doesn’t buy either originals or prints, it may be that having a lower priced item like a pack of cards could help turn non-buyers into buyers. While the sale of one pack of cards probably isn’t going to have much impact on your bottom line, if you can convert a decent percentage of walk-ins who like your work but wouldn’t buy an original or reproduction to buy cards, it can have an impact over the course of a year.

On the Con Side

You are right to be concerned that you might have some buyers who would have bought a giclee who end up buying cards instead, but you might also have some who buy cards who eventually move upmarket and buy reproductions or originals. Someone who is going to frame a card probably isn’t your best target audience for more expensive work anyway.

You are also right that the quality and color isn’t going to be perfect. You certainly couldn’t expect the same quality in terms of printing. I think that’s okay for cards though. As long as the quality of the card is good and the imagery looks good, the fidelity to the original isn’t as critical.

There is certainly also time and energy that will be put into creating the cards, and the cards probably aren’t going to generate enough revenue to make them wildly profitable.

What do you Think?

Do you reproduce your work on cards or other promotional/gift items? Why or why not? If you do, has it been good for your business? Can you add to my list of pros and cons? Share your thoughts, experiences and insights in the comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

32 Comments

  1. i find cards to be quite usefull in that they sell frames and indeed sell prints and paintings through acting as a physical distribution of the image. the purchaser of the card is often not the subsequent buyer of the more valuable products. The cards also sell my art books quite effectively by acting as introductions.

  2. I do a print of one of my paintings for our Christmas card every year. They are very popular and many of the relatives actually frame them and hang them in their houses, no one ever buys one or has asked to buy an original. Disappointing but at least they know I am still painting….they send thank yous! I gave up on cards long ago, there’s so little profit it’s hardly worth the cost, time and effort.

  3. I don’t sell giclees or prints of my oil paintings but did produce a series of about 30 card designs, much simpler versions of my usual subject matter and colors, with useful greetings inside. I then labelled them with a new product line (www.sayitwithvegetables.com) and with my fine art website (www.michellemarcotte.com) on the back. I print them myself on good, deckle edge card stock. They are in two small stores, and I sell them for about $4 each online, through word of mouth, and when I exhibit and they STILL have not covered the costs of production. But they are amusing and useful.

  4. I don’t sell giclees so cards are not interfering with reproduction sales and are the only real low cost offerings of my art. I think cards are great and get my imperfect representations at Moo.com printing new batches when fresh art is available … thinking about what images work for greeting cards. People love them. I spend zero time and effort on marketing them … but they are on a rack in the corner of my studio. I also put one card in the goodie bags for my guests at my collectors open house.It is a big deal before collectors leave to choose the goodie bag with their favorite painting on the card.

  5. The card buyer is a different person that the art collector. Having both for sell appeals to a wider market. And, I like making my art available to those who can’t afford the expensive pieces. There are those who are looking for a small souvenir, too, and the package of cards fills that need.

      1. I like this attitude, about making art available to those who can’t afford the expensive art work. A small card as artwork will never replace the impact of a 24×36 painting on a wall; but it may keep people talking about your work.

  6. As a buyer, I’ve purchased art cards from artists I’ve newly discovered as a way to “try out” that style of art in my home. My husband and I have very different tastes in art and this is an efficient way to see if I can sway him to agree to buy the art. 🙂 Several times it has moved us to a point where we’ve either bought prints or on some occasions an original later down the road.

    I have bought cards and framed them, but usually as a test run to see if that art style will work in my house.

    I find them useful and don’t think they ultimately stop me from buying more expensive works later.

  7. I have done cards. Usually I have used Vistaprint which has decent card stock but I have to remember to lighten up the image first.And I have used Moo, better quality, more expensive. I have sold cards via Redbubble. Yes no great income but it is fun. I have chosen a few images and had cards made up with Thank You on the front of the image. Fun to use and not really going to be framed! I use my cards for family birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever. I can write up personal greetings on them. I have the name of the piece printed on the back of the card along with my website and “By Kay Hale”. Whenever I send one of my donated pug rescue auction paintings I send along my card and a greeting card with a personal message. I have had postcards done for shows..usually I have many left to send to friends.
    I don’t see the cards as a competition for my originals, but as a promotional item. I do sets sometimes and sell them or gift them. When I went to a 10 day Italian art workshop, I took enough of these sets to gift to everyone including the art teacher and the hosts of the villa we stayed in. They were all happy and surprised so mission accomplished. For me selling them is not the min goal but I would rather have them than Hallmark! I will buy cards from other artists also.

  8. … if the cards are being used strictly as hand outs for promotional purposes then perhaps putting a large hand written signature across the image would keep it from becoming a framed print … but would perhaps one day be a collector’s item because of the signature …

  9. What works well for me is to produce small quantities of cards for use in my own correspondence, to promote attention to my work and reinforce my “brand.” I also enjoy giving small packets of note cards as gifts to friends and customers. However, I am not interested in selling greeting cards simply because it’s not the line of work I want to spend my time and effort pursuing. I’d rather focus on painting.

  10. I am an artist still early in my career and I find that selling cards is a good way to get introduced into the market and to make my work available to those who aren’t in the target market for an original. I make sure I have my cards printed on quality paper by a quality company and I try to buy when there are sales, so that I am making something from my cards.

  11. I have been selling cards for several years. At Open Studios, I only sell boxed sets, but in galleries and my one retail outlet, they promote my work. I started out as a card collector myself, then moved to prints and originals by the same artists.
    At my retail outlet, the owner buys the cards. I do not do consignment with them.
    I have also had to learn which card images create the biggest impact or promotion for my work and, after a couple of mistakes now choose only signature images.
    I have been surprised that with email and ecards, there is still a high demand for the paper card.

  12. I always offer cards, however as a set of ten to sell, and I use them to mail to clients for various reasons. In addition, I create a Christmas painting for my Christmas cards each year. Then I mail them to collectors and family alike and have a lot extra to sell as card sets. It is not worth it to sell individually to me. If they choose to want to frame my 5×7 card, so be it. I feel honored and it keeps me in front of them, this often turns into more down the road. think the cards are a powerful marketing tool.

    1. like you lucy, i used cards for gifts. i painted pictures for a children’s book called “me and you and the red canoe”. the book was a handy ‘any-occasion’ gift… i selected some images that were in the book to be used as cards. the author of the book used these cards as giveaways to her clients.

  13. I sell a lot of cards with my artwork on them. I use Vistaprint. They give you choices for card stock and envelopes. I want people to enjoy my art, so if having it on a card is all they have, that’s great. Some do return for other purchases and when they send out the cards to others, that’s an effortless promotion. Having your website on the back of each card helps customers see your other works. Picture Salon is another company I use for prints, their cards are good, but a bit more expensive.
    Anyway, all in all, I think selling cards, or whatever other product with your artwork is on is smart. I have a customer that has 3 pillows in her house with my art on them. Again, an effortless visual promotion when she has guests.
    Congratulations on being a successful artist having your work support you. That is a blessing. Maybe someday I can get there, in the meantime, my little bread and butter cards will be making people smile!

  14. I offer cards via Redbubble and Fine Art America/Pixels and have been doing this for years. I agree with the other comments in the fact that most of the time the customer who buys cards and prints from these venues or from me in art events, is not the customer who buys original art. Most of the time because they cannot afford to do so. But there are exceptions and some of the people who purchase my originals also like to purchase cards of these original to send to friends and family to share the art that they purchased just because they so love the art. I choose not to print my own cards, because this would be too much work for the money to be made from card sales. I am happy with the fact that there are very competent venues who do the printing and I do not have to lift a finger. FAA/Pixels does a fantastic job with printing on a variety of products and although this has not been a huge income provider for me, I consider this to be basically passive income, which can happen even while I am sleeping. I do not see a reason to sign my name on the greeting cards, if they are not handmade. The info is printed on the back of these, if someone is interested in looking me up in further pursuits in regard to my art. I also like to make my art available to those who cannot afford to buy originals but have some funds to spend on cards or prints or other printed products, like coffee mugs or pillows and so much more. In reality I have quite a few patrons who have purchased both originals and printed products ranging from greeting cards to wall art and personal products to home decor and more.

  15. I have a few of my pieces as cards. I’ve sold them and use them as my personal gifts. I see both sides of the story (so to speak) in this question. However, I prefer the option of creating a few.

  16. When I have toured my work the originals are not for sale, so it has been great to have cards of exhibition works that people can buy. If people buy a book of the works (which can be coloured in), they get the card at half price. I sell the cards at $8 (Australian). One gallery keeps my cards and books in stock (three years after exhibiting there) and they charge 20% commission. I am happy with this as they are providing sales and exposure I would not otherwise have had.
    I also use the cards in most of the ways discussed above.

  17. 30-40% of my income comes from card sales. I make a 50% margin on them and they do a great job of reaching people who cannot afford originals or prints and who like to send cards. I even have a few customers who collect dozens of different card designs for themselves. Many people don’t have room to hang art or don’t have the money. I am very happy with doing business this way.

  18. I’m coming at this from the side of the buyer. I started collecting art by purchasing cards from artists, framing them and putting them on the wall. That was all I could afford: a few dollars for the card and a dollar frame. Now, I am purchasing beautiful, original works of art on a regular basis, and have a gallery where we sell cards of artwork that is/has been on the walls.

    I own several originals from artists I fell in love with when I could only afford a card. I still have some of those cards in frames to remind me of the days when spending $5 on something that would put art on my wall would cost me a meal or I would need to walk to work because it was my gas money.

  19. I had a photography show a few years ago, and put one of the images in the show on a postcard for the announcement. Did not sell anything, but many people wanted me to sign the postcard!

  20. Years ago I had greeting cards printed, 2,000 of each. They sold well to begin and then the telephone area code changed and the artist bio on the back was not accurate so I quit selling them and then I had to store all of them. Now I make photo cards and can control
    which ones I make according to what is selling. I feel that the cards are self promotion that others are paying for. I have had customers buy Giclees and occasionally originals because they had kept and lived with a card and decided it was the right image for their space. Sometimes I’ve had new customers who called from out of my area because a friend sent them my card. Often when I meet someone and give them my business card with an image on it they will say that they know my work and see it everywhere, so it seems to work for me.

  21. I decided a while ago to never send a greeting card without one of my paintings on it. Why send out other people’s artwork images? For years I’ve sent holiday cards to collectors with one of my winter paintings on them. I use snapfish.com when their 5″x7″ cards are on sale for $1 each in the fall and replace the envelopes with better ones from amazon. I sell packs of 6 cards for $30 and cut the backs off some of the cards, mat them to 8″x10″ (mats from amazon), and sell them for $30 each in a sleeve (also from amazon). The matted prints are more profitable. And when I want to remind a collector that I’m still around, I send them one of the cards. This approach feels good to me.

  22. I produce cards for solo shows, for the gift shops. I can control how many I print – anywhere from 1 copy to a hundred and upwards, but I choose to keep them in small quantities, because I don’t know what will sell, in the beginning. I can always print more and have theme ready for sale in a 4 day turn-around.
    Many of my friends are over 65 and are downsizing. They will never buy paintings – either they have filled up their walls with original art and are now challenged to disperse them to the next generation, or their places are too small, or they are on limited income. They like to have samples of my work and they like to have small gifts to give. Every card that goes out to another person is a bit of promotion for me.
    The downside for me is that they are time consuming to manage. From that point of view, it’s not worth it.
    However, what I like to do when a collector has bought a major purchase, is to send them a package of cards of their own new acquisition. They can easily send them to friends to let them know about their new painting. That has been very much appreciated.

  23. I print my card images myself on my little HP, mess with the color to make them look better, and print them on vellum bristol, cut them out, mount them on colored paper with a deckle edge that shows beyond the image, and then mount that on cards. I have a stamp with all my contact info that I use on the back of a card. I then put the cards into cellophane bags from Clearbags that seal. My cards sell from $4.00 (shop with 20% commission), to $5.95 (gallery with 35% comm.). At the shows/fairs I sold for $3.00, but will change that to $4 (if we ever get back to shows/fairs). I buy cards/envelopes from Joanns, the colored paper there too, but only on sale, but including the doublesided tape I use, the cards cost out at about $1 a card. Yes there is labor involved, but not a ton, and I usually sell enough that they pay for my entry fees and sometimes more. People buying my prints often buy cards to go with, and a unforeseen element has been that people who buy originals that I made a print of, buy cards to send to people. One lady who owns an original comes back to the same event she bought it at every year and buys more cards. I am now working on a commission for a person who bought a print, cards and now wants an original. So for me, they have been a godsend. I am small potatoes, I know, but every penny helps at this point.

  24. People who buy cards for the purpose of framing them, may come from a few different profiles: 1) They may not have the income for original art or even pricey prints like giclees. 2) They may be young and just starting out in their art collection process. 3) They may not have much wall space to decorate for some reason or another. 4) They may want a small trinket of their travels and have limited luggage space and money.

    As artists we want to build up our fans, the people who follow us, remember us, research us, come to our shows, and come back to look for us when they finally do have the money to buy a painting. If they start out with a card today and come back for a painting in 1 year, 5 years, or even 10 years because they remembered that card framed on their wall and the artist whose career they’ve been following then it’s a win win.

  25. I’ve sold cards since 1997. The same images (about 200 floral ones) continue to sell. I print a four-up at Staples, then trim with my mat cutter and glue stick it on to a pre-folded card I have printed my info on..It takes about 8 half days a year to prep them. It’s something that brings in a small amount of money, but it seems to come on a regular basis. But if it is really about the money, I would probably not do it. In my world, there are few people who can really afford to buy art – some do but my big ones sold have primarily been through galleries or art associations and they are not very frequent. But the cards go to those who just love my art and have little money, or no more space in their homes. They honor me when they frame it. They tell me that the person they sent to loved it or that they could not give it to someone else, they had to keep it. And some have bought my smaller paintings and that is an honor to me too. Its a big part of the human element in all this difficult thing of selling and it is the one thing of the optional things I decided to continue when I recently moved out of state.

  26. I usually paint miniature originals on card stock, and send them to friends and family for special occasions…they are usually happily welcomed.

  27. I am so lucky to have my beloved neighbor, Pat, churn them out with her photo shop abilities and the
    various deckle edged cards from Blix or Joann’s.
    I have also just used the many photos of bouquets I’ve grown, assembled and photoed and pasted
    onto those deckle edged cards, stamped with an insignia (made by Pat) and put into plastic sleeves
    and have sold them in the local gallery in which I’m a member.

    I too am happy that card buyers love my work which they cannot afford but want to take home to
    frame. Many have come back to buy my smaller pieces which is always a happy surprise.

  28. My husband, a watercolor artist, and I, a photographer, both have been selling packs of cards of our art at shows for years. They have a fairly small footprint and as others have noticed, those who may not buy a print will often buy a pack of cards. We sell them for $10/pk (no single cards anymore because of the extra handling). We produce everything in house, which for us works best, as we have complete control and can print as needed. We package them in glassine sealed bags which showcases them nicely and keeps them clean and prevents them getting shopworn. They are blank inside and there are some local elders who seek us out at shows specifically to buy new card images, which they then use to correspond with friends. For us, it works. I’m unsure whether my husband still has cards available at Fine Art America or Etsy with his prints, but I doubt it because I don’t think either were worthwhile. Hopefully, someday in the near distant future, local shows will again be able to be held. We have sold next to nothing this year, with the exception of a very few prints on Etsy.

  29. Since I am a sculptor and ceramicist who occasionally paints, I think making cards from images of my sculptures is a great idea! That creates a way for images of my work to get out in front of people who might otherwise never see what I can do, and it gives people a way to get in touch with me in case they want something I have created in their own homes, or in their yards.

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